“Everywhere he goes, I go, ‘No,’ ” says Easley’s wife, Corina, sitting at the restaurant table with an empty chair to her right. “ ‘Not again.’ ”
Nearly three months ago, Easley was a replacement side judge during the NFL’s lockout of officials, which placed applicants with only high school and college officiating experience onto the game’s biggest stage. Mistakes were made, and men were embarrassed. None was vilified like Easley, the 52-year-old bank vice president who officiated football and basketball games in his spare time.
On the night of Sept. 24, tension was high and the game was close. As time expired, Easley signaled a touchdown for the Seattle Seahawks on a Hail Mary pass to the end zone, handing them a 14-12 win against the Green Bay Packers. More than 16 million viewers watched as the NFL season changed, along with Easley’s life.
“I go, ‘Oh, crap,’ ” Easley says, still wearing his business suit, as the strangers listen.
Easley’s controversial touchdown call sent ripples through the NFL that haven’t yet settled. If the season ended today, for instance, the Seahawks would make the playoffs and the Washington Redskins would not. One victory can sometimes mean everything, and so can one decision.
Facing pressure in the aftermath of the call, the league settled with its locked-out officials three days after the game; the replacements would not represent the NFL again.
In this coastal town about three hours’ drive northwest of Los Angeles, the following weeks faded into a blur of threats and humiliation. Easley has mostly given up officiating, his side job and passion, and doesn’t trust outsiders or even those he once considered friends.
“It can collapse a person,” Corina says as she waits.
Finally, Easley returns to the table, dips an artichoke leaf into white sauce and orders a rib-eye. He smiles again and waves as the men disappear toward the door.
It eventually fades.
“I think about it,” he says in his first extensive interview since the Seattle game. “Does one moment in your life really define who you are?”
The chance of a lifetime
They stood on the golf course last summer, discussing the downsides. Sure, some might not like that an official was willing to be a “scab,” going against the union and benefiting from the NFL officials’ lockout.
But Howard Hall, a friend and a fellow high school official, told Easley that this was a chance that so few get: to practice your craft at the highest level. Sure, Easley told him, he’d submit an application.
Still, sending the paperwork wasn’t easy. Easley stood at the fax machine, hesitant to press send. What would his coworkers and friends say? What about his fellow officials? Was this a renewed invitation of turmoil, the kind that he believed God had eased 27 years earlier?